A new future for the Dark Hedges in County Antrim
The Dark Hedges, in County Antrim
Work begins today, Monday 20th November, on the first stage of preserving the Dark Hedges for future generations.
The avenue of trees on the Bregagh Road near Stranocum, County Antrim was planted as a grand entrance to Gracehill House around 1775 and has achieved worldwide fame through its use as a location in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The beech avenue is now around 250 years old while the life expectancy of such trees is 150-200 years.
Tree management experts Arbor Consulting undertook a survey of the site in June 2023 and concluded that unfortunately 6 of the 86 mature trees on Bregagh Road must be felled.
Cllr Mervyn Storey, Chair of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust, commented:
“While it’s sad that we must see the loss of 6 trees we’ve been able to agree an approach with Roads Service that meets health and safety requirements while also preserving the aesthetic qualities and very special nature of the site."
In addition to the removal of 6 trees work will be undertaken on preserving the health of the remaining 80 trees in the avenue.
Mr Storey went on to say:
“The report from Paul Hawksford and John McNamara at Arbor Consulting gives us a solid base to move forward with the future management of the Dark Hedges. Combined with better traffic management this should allow the site to be loved and appreciated for many more years.
"We may have been able to get to where we are today earlier but, thanks to the key stakeholders including DfI Roads, the landowners on Bregagh Road and the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, we’re now in a position where we can move forward for the benefit of this incredible location and its many users.”
The Dark Hedges will be closed from today until the first stage of the work is completed.
Timbertec (NI) has been appointed to undertake the work on behalf of the landowners and Dark Hedges Preservation Trust. The Principal of Timbertec is Islay man Dominic Harrison. Dominic commented:
“I came to Northern Ireland 25 years ago as a young man to do some tree surgery. I loved the place so much that I stayed. In that time I’ve been involved in many projects but the work closest to my heart has been the Dark Hedges. I did the last work at the Dark Hedges about 10 years ago.
"We pride ourselves on ensuring that our work meets the highest professional standards but also respects the special nature of the site.
"It's important that this is the first stage of future work and a management regime needs to be agreed that ensures the on-going health of the trees and also allows for bringing on and planting new trees that can replace what has been lost.”
It is expected that in the coming months responsibility for the Dark Hedges will pass from the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust to the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust (CCGHT).
CCGHT CEO Graham Thompson commented:
“CCGHT plans to establish a new Dark Hedges Management Forum which is expected to consist of relevant statutory organisations, landowners and other interested parties.
"It is envisaged that in future the issues at the site will be managed in a co-ordinated strategic manner.
"This includes a management plan ensuring the longevity of the tress, while giving full consideration to health and safety issues; visitor management at the site including dealing with parking and traffic issues; educating and informing visitors to the site across a range of media; and importantly identifying funding sources for future site management.”
1. The Dark Hedges are situated alongside the Bregagh Road near Stranocum in County Antrim. An avenue of beech trees was planted to form a grand entrance to Gracehill House in around 1775 by the landowner James Stuart.
2. Common beech trees have a usual life expectancy of 150-200 years. The Dark Hedges trees are almost 250 years old. Their advanced age has caused them to grow in an unusual, twisted manner creating the universally recognised atmospheric phenomenon we see today.
3. Due to the advanced age of the trees the avenue requires regular remedial work which includes from time-to-time appropriate tree removal. This is important for visitor safety and to ensure the overall health of the trees.
4. The Dark Hedges are owned by three farming families. To help ensure their longevity The Dark Hedges Preservation Trust was set up in 2009. As the Preservation Trust has no resources or income it is planned that a new Dark Hedges Management Forum will be set up as a self-standing entity within the management of the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust.
5. While the Dark Hedges has been a site of local myth and legend for many years it has become internationally recognised over the past two decades. This has been due to the use of the iconic site in tourism promotion, advertising and perhaps most famously as its use as “The King’s Road” in the HBO series Game of Thrones.
6. Work to remove 6 potentially dangerous and dying trees and minor work on a similar number will commence on Monday 20th November. The first day will focus on site set-up, agreement on methodology, ensuring compliance with statutory requirements, information briefing and minor work including ivy cutting and small branch removal. No felling will take place on Monday 20th November.
7. It should be noted that due to the delicate nature of the site and other geographical complexities tree surgery will be carried out in a systematic, considered manner with timber being removed bit by bit. It is unlikely that there will be a single major felling similar to that, for example, which happened recently for the Westminster Christmas Trees in Kielder Forest.
8. The Bregagh Road will be closed to all non-site traffic and pedestrians from 20 November 2023 for safety reasons during working hours while the work continues.
9. The work will be undertaken by Timbertec (NI) under the direction of Dominic Harrison. The work will follow recommendation made in a report prepared in June 2023 compiled by Paul Hawksford and John McNamara of Arbor Consulting.